Showdown: Tarkir, part 1

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The latest episode of the Drive to Work Podcast, by Mark Rosewater, is entitled “Showdown: Ravnica”, and in it he compares the guild mechanics from each of the Ravnican guild in the original Ravnica and the Return to Ravnica block – and declares a winner. I like the idea, but I’m not a huge fan of Ravnica compared to Tarkir, so I want to do the same thing but with the Tarkir clan mechanics. Rosewater compared the abilities from a design standpoint, but I will compare them from a player’s perspective, since I’m a player and not a designer.

abzanbattlepriestAbzan/Dromoka: Outlast vs. Bolster
The really interesting bit about these two mechanics isn’t really the mechanics themselves, but rather the “cares about +1/+1 counters”-cards, which really make both of them tick. In outlast, these were plenty, and they played really well with each other in limited. I’ve even used them to build and EDH deck around them, and the deck was really fun, even though I haven’t played it in a long while: Anafenza Fun with Counters, on TappedOut.net. Outlast also has a tactical aspect, which rewards skillful play and planning, and I like that.

Bolster, however, does not have any of these cards that also care about the counters it makes, and while one could argue it is equally difficult to play with as outlast, it offers less control. It’s more about casting creatures in the proper order, and casting spells before combat rather than after, both of which offer less interesting game states than outlast, in my opinon. They play really well with each other though, all things considered.

Point goes to: Outlast!

monasteryswiftspear.fullJeskai/Ojutai: Prowess vs. Rebound
Both of these are spell-based and they, like outlast and bolster above, they play really well with each other. I was very unexcited about Clan Jeskai before Khans of Tarkir was released, and Prowess didn’t change that for me. It felt like a really boring mechanic, and I envisioned myself having a tough time building around it in limited without screwing up the balance between creatures and other spells. Rebound is a returning mechanic from Rise of the Eldrazi and while some people seem to like it, I’ve always found it quite boring. It’s pretty powerful, at least on the rare cards, but it’s a bit unexciting. I’ve also found that many many times you’re not casting the same spell twice, but rather, you’re casting a good spell the first time and a bastardized light version of that spell in your next turn. It also comes with a hefty price tag.

So, both mechanics are unexciting to me at face value, but while rebound has some playability in EDH in cards like Consuming Vapors, cards like Monastery Swiftspear absolutely crushed in Legacy and Modern when it was released, and Monastery Mentor still sees plenty of play in Vintage of all formats. On top of that, prowess has become an evergreen mechanic, making a splash in most every set since, and being arguably the first proper combat ability properly aligned with the Izzet colours. I was so wrong about prowess beforehand, it’s not even funny. It plays really well in practice, in many formats, including limited and constructed ones. Perhaps the boost is a bit too small to be relevant in my format of choice, but then again, Shu Yun is a deck.

Point goes to: Prowess!


And that’s it for this time! Next time, we’ll settle the fights between Delve vs. Exploit, Raid vs. Dash, and Ferocious vs. Formidable, so stay tuned!

What do you think of my choices? Am I right, am I wrong?

 

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Queen Marchesa, Monarchs and keywords!

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By now, we all know that Kaya killed Brago, and after Brago was dethroned (hah!), the one who usurped him was Marchesa, the Black Rose, who was also present for the original Conspiracy set. Today, her card was revealed, and it is indeed very interesting:

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So, on face value, she’s a 3/3 Deathtouch, haste creature for four, in the Mardu colours. This is pretty neat for Mardu in EDH, even if she’s terribly overshadowed by other offensive powerhouses like Zurgo Helmsmasher and Kaalia of the Vast. Deathtouch means she’s a lot better on defense, however.

Further, she uses the new keyword “monarch” twice – and while exact rules aren’t quite known yet, it seems to be an emblem-like state in that being “monarch” doesn’t grant you a permanent which can be destroyed, but it can be removed, contrary to emblems. Here’s the token card used for The Monarch:

themonarch

This seems like great  fun in multiplayer, and it’s sure to be useful outside of Conspiracy 2 draft, in EDH specifically. The new Marchesa is a Phyrexian Arena on a stick in colours that are more than capable of keeping creatures off their backs. Mardu has all the best spot removal in the format, and it also comes with neat tricks such as Ghostly Prison and their like.

So far, we’ve only seen a few cards that interact with the monarch state, but I think it has great promise, and Marchesa makes me want to build a Mardu political deck full of neat value cards and utility removal.

Lastly, the fact that we have a true Monarchy of Roses brings joy to my heart:


What do you think of Queen Marchesa and monarchy? Leave a comment!

Eight Magic podcasts I listen to (and so should you)

contributor bannerI commute in my daily life. To pass time, I listen to podcasts, mostly. Many of the podcasts I listen to are Magic related, and I thought I’d share a few of them here, for your listening pleasure. I will link to each of the podcasts’ RSS feeds, but I’d recommend you find each podcast in your most suitable app.

Drive to Work – Mark Rosewater’s excellent podcast touches upon game design in general about as much as Magic in general, but it is a great listen for anyone who likes a behind-the-scenes look on Magic’s design. Especially the episodes about each set design and also the historic retrospectives on early Pro Tours are great listens.

Limited Resources – Marshall Sutcliff and (currently) Luis Scott-Vargas currently hosts an excellent limited podcast. Lots of lessons for limited players especially, but also general game play, and it certainly contains sweetness for anyone who plays competitive Magic, not just limited grinders.

Magic: the Amateuring – A podcast that aims to introduce beginners or returning players to the game, but suits everyone who has an interest in Magic in general. Meghan and Maria covers recent topics and all formats, and does so while being thoroughly entertaining.

TapTapConcede – Hosted by Graham Stark and friends, famous from the excellent Magic YouTube series Friday Nights, TapTapConcede is a fun podcast more geared towards entertainment than learning, compared to podcasts such as Limited Resources above. Not that that’s a bad thing in any way. I wholeheartedly recommend you jump on the band wagon with this podcast as soon as possible, it’s always a good listen, and it seems older episodes are being removed from their RSS feed, meaning now is the best time to start listening!

The Command Zone Commander’s Brew, Commanderin’, The Five Commanders – EDH nuts rejoice, beacuse all of these are great podcasts. They all do their shows a bit differently, but each is focused on the best multiplayer format in Magic and everyone does it really well. What I also like about all of these podcasts is that they have hosts who are dedicated to their fanbases and communities, and are good at answering e-mails, tweets etc. Fun for the whole family (or just you, depending on how much your family plays EDH).

What I like about Battle for Zendikar

nde bannerAs a follow-up on my gloomy post about Battle for Zendikar, I thought I’d go over the things I actually do like about the new set. Not everything is awful, not even when one of the most interesting worlds in Magic has been overrun by otherworldly alien creatures.

omnath,locusofrage.full#1: Landfall is interesting, and likely better.
Landfall is a baller mechanic for Magic in general, and one I think deserve to be evergreen more than for example Prowess. Magic has always had its mana system, and while I like it overall, nobody can argue that it sucks losing to mana screws or mana floods. Landfall solves the latter in a rather elegant way.

In the first Zendikar block, however, Landfall was something of a menace (pun unintended). Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede combined their powers to create one of the fastest limited formats ever – to the point that taking a Welkin Tern or even a Cliff Threader or a Surrakar Marauder over an obvious bomb in a more orthodox format, say a Rampaging Baloths was often the correct call.

In this format, so far, we’ve seen much more reserved Landfall threats – Makindi Sliderunner, Snapping Gnarlid, and Scythe Leopard have a more reasonable growth, and the rest of the threats on common and uncommon are of higher casting costs. The only really crazy Landfall threat on the uncommon rarity is Grove Rumbler, and it’s multicolour after all.

All in all, I expect Battle for Zendikar’s limited format to contain elements from Zendikar for sure, but with a page from Rise of the Eldrazi as well, which seems positive. It should be noted that Landfall is more or less an exclusively offensive ability, which might make for a faster-than-usual limited environment after all.

clutchofcurrents.full#2. Landfall works well with Awaken.
Original Zendikar had Kicker, and Worldwake had Multikicker to function as mana sinks in the limited environment. Useful tools for when decks sometimes wants to run more than 17 lands to fuel Landfall.

Awaken could be considered a variant of kicker in some aspects, even though the kicked version of the spells all have the same bonus effects – animating a land and adding some counters to it, or sometimes just adding counters to an already awakend land.

This ought to work well with Landfall as well, in that it both serves to have some spells with two configurations (although some Awaken costs are a bit high, and other spells are virtually unplayable without Awaken) – suitable for when you have more lands in play than usual.

#3. (Some) instant speed ramp.
The ramp isn’t very rampy in Battle for Zendikar, as I’ve stated before – but the ones there are are pretty decent. Natural Connection costs three and a card, but is an Instant, which means you could activate Landfall out of nowhere in instant speed. Evolving Wilds is slow mana fixing, but does the same thing, even if the opponent can see it coming. Lastly, Blighted Woodland can create three (!) Landfall triggers on its own in a single turn! The good thing about these is that Evolving Wilds is likely the only high-ish pick for people, so if you’re deep in powerful Landfall triggers, it’s likely that some of the common fixing will come around late in a draft.

#4. The Eldrazi mechanics convey meaning well.salvagedrone.full
I’ve stated before that I don’t like the Eldrazi much before – but I will say that R&D has done a great job with the mechanics. During the spoiler weeks, I caught myself saying “Huh, that’s… weird. But maybe that’s the point” on more than one occasion. Ingest and Devoid feels like alien mechanics to me, and even though they serve a bad villain, they’re doing it well.

What do you like about Battle for Zendikar? Leave a comment!

[Battle for Zendikar] Guardian of Tazeem

nde bannerThe World Championships are running right now at PAX, and while I’m excited to see no less than two Swedes fighting for the title, I’m also excited for the new Battle for Zendikar spoilers! This little thing showed up in the middle of the stream yesterday:

guardianoftazeem

As of right now, I haven’t found a better scan, so I apologize for the quality.

While this fellow probably won’t make a splash in any of the constructed formats I care about (Legacy and EDH), he is a complete Limited bomb and a very effective beater. 4/5 flier for 5 is above the curve as-is, and the Landfall ability makes it crazy. Despite what I said about constructed formats, fetchlands make him even more crazy, since that means he can tap down two things.

Overall, I’d say it’s a good card with a neat design. What do you think?

Battle for Zendikar, the first spoilers

nde bannerNear Death Experience banner. I know the card is from Rise of the Eldrazi, but the art is just so baller! Besides, Gideon is in the new set as well!

The lists for Duel Decks: Zendikar vs. Eldrazi were revealed recently, along with a few new preview cards that are quite exciting. I don’t want to discuss all of them, but here’s a link to the article: Link to the mothership. In bullet points:

  • Allies are back
  • Landfall is back
  • There are three new keywords so far, Devoid, Ingest and Awaken.

Devoid and Ingest are both Eldrazi keywords, and both are represented on a pretty sweet common:

dominatordroneIn Limited, I’d say a 3/2 for 3 with no drawback is playable as is, at least in most formats. It depends on how fast the format will be and how important it will be to curve out. Zendikar was one of the fastest Limited environments of all time, where Rise of the Eldrazi was one of the slowest – with the latter featuring the infamously bad Glory Seeker, completely unplayable in the format but at least playable in every othoblivionsowerer Limited environment. Zendikar, on the other hand of the spectrum, was so fast that drafting a 2/1 vanillia for 2 over bomby 6-drops was almost always the right call. Only time will tell where Battle for Zendikar will fit in, but if it leans to the faster format, I’d say Dominator Drone is pretty good. If you can curve into it from a colourless 2-drop, the upside will make a difference, and it also means drafting multiple Dominator Drone will be nice.

Devoid is interesting since it will allow stuff like Dominator Drone to be good without having a Mirrodin-esque Limited environment with a bunch of colourless decks running around. Ingest doesn’t do much in this case, but it does have some synergy with at least one other spoiled Eldrazi card, the first spoiler in fact. Oblivion Sower makes use of not only cards it exiles itself but any exiled cards, and it’s very likely we’ll see more of these effects in higher rarities. Perhaps a build-around uncommon?

sheerdropAwaken, along with Landfall, are the revealed Zendikarian mechanics, and both reward playing lots of lands in your Limited decks. This leads me to believe this will be a slower format than usual. As far as Sheer Drop goes, it at least seems like a playable on first glance, playing it as a 1-for-1 for 3 is fine, even if it is Sorcery speed, and if you get to Awaken it, it’s an effective easy 2-for-1. If only it was an Instant it could’ve lead to some pretty crazy blow outs on the Limited tables coming this fall.

All in all, I rather like what I see from Battle for Zendikar so far, and I really enjoyed the old Zendikar block, so I’m pretty excited for this year’s fall set.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Magic Origins: Demonic Pact

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The black mythic was spoiled today, and it’s called Demonic Pact.

demonicpact

The card is extremely flavourful, the art is pretty nice (even if Liliana’s… assets… are perhaps played up a bit too much) but the card itself will probably never see play outside casual constructed. Losing on the upkeep on the fourth turn after this is cast is rough and probably bad for all the formats I care about.

In Limited, it doesn’t affect the board when cast, and one of the modes doesn’t affect the board directly, and one does so only indirectly. Since board presence is the most important part of Limited (aside weird versions like cube drafts), this means the card is probably pretty terrible in Limited.

Legacy is way, way too fast of a format for anything that costs four mana and doesn’t read “you win the game” outright (i.e. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Aluren, Sneak Attack).

EDH is too big and powerful for the effects. Making “all opponents discard two cards” might be playable, and drawing cards is integral to the format, but it’s too little, too late when competing with Phyrexian Arena and Necropotence.

consumingcontractThat said, the card is very, very cool and I have to bring up the fact that deja-vu hit me like a truck when I read it. I scoured the internet for some time before I found out why: the card is actually one of the submissions for You Make the Card 4, which was voted down in favour of what would become Waste Not. The card was nicknamed “Consuming Contract” which might even be a better name considering the aliteration, but eventually lost out.

Proof found here on the mothership.

This fact makes me excited for WotC using other ideas from You Make the Card in the future, especially since a few of the submissions who lost out to Waste Not were so much better.

What do you think of Demonic Pact? Leave a comment!

Magic Origins: Chandra’s Ignition and more

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There was a new trailer for the new Duels game at E3, and it showed off two brand new cards, and they are both quite exciting.

chandra's ignitionDisplaying the moment when Chandra’s spark ignites, this card is at best a mono-red Duneblast, and at worst it does absolutely nothing. High ceiling, low floor that is. This may well be a limited bomb designed to be the breaker of all stale-mates, or at least a reset of the board, and it might also be decent in EDH. Time will tell.

The other spoiler is a much blurrier picture:

ravaging-blaze

Ravaging Blaze XRR
Instant
Ravaging Blaze deals X damage to target creature.
Spell mastery – If there are two or more instant and/or sorcery cards in your graveyard, Ravaging Blaze also deals X damage to that creature’s controller.

This might just be playable in Standard and it’s obviously a pretty good in Limited. Spell mastery makes me hopeful for the future, it’s pretty damn easy to get online as long as it’s always two instants and/or sorceries, and added effects on cards are always nice.

 

Rending worlds at DTK prerelease (not really)

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And so, it was finally time for the much-anticipated Dragons of Tarkir prerelease, and though I planned to win this tournament, I was thwarted by a few things, mainly the fact that the TO had decided that the tournament is to begin at 1 PM, even though we were 40 players and six rounds of swiss awaited us, and the date coincided with the anniversary of my engagement, meaning I had less time than some at the tournament to finish.

In either case, I had preregistered Atarka way before the set was spoiled and I was pleased to see the spoilers dropping in. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa writes in his prerelease primer that Atarka is the best clan of the bunch, another thing I was very pleased to see.

denprotector.fullThe pool I opened wasn’t very exciting, however. It wasn’t bad per-se, but I’ve opened much better ones. Den Protector was my prerelease rare, not the best of the bunch, but certainly better than for example Atarka’s Command. What struck me about the pool is that it contained only a single dragon, a Belltoll Dragon. This is the set that is supposed to have a higher as-fan of Dragons than any other before it, and I couldn’t really see that. I got some dragon tribal cards, like Dragonlord’s Servant, and Draconic Roar but nothing near any on-colour dragons.

I built a pretty straight-forward RG Aggro deck, but since I opened both Reach of Shadows and Tasigur, the Golden Fang in my Fate Reforged pack, I splashed black for those two cards. Notice how the only mana-fixing I opened was the R/G gain land in the same pack. Fate Reforged was good to me!

The entire deck with the pool, minus the basic lands I opened, can be found here. I won’t go into much more detail, white had an excellent rare, but was too shallow to begin with. Black had a couple of good cards and was the deepest of the three non-Atarka colours, but lacked the good creatures to be viable as a second colour over green (red was already decided given the burn spells I opened), and blue had a bad Mythic Rare and some of the worst commons in the two sets.

In my first game, I played against another Atarka player and my mana curve’s wonkyness came back to bite me hard. I got stuck on four lands for a long time in both games one and two, with multiple five-drops in hand. For game three, I mulliganed to five before seeing two lands, and kept a pretty bad hand, but my opponent was playing cards like Sight of the Scalelords and Sheltered Aerie so I won anyway.

In the second game, I faced off against Silumgar splashing white for Pacifism, and won very quickly since he had some issues with his mana in the second game. My mana was perfect in both games, thank Atarka.

illusorygains.fullThe third game was the most exciting by far, again against Silumgar with a bunch of annoying 3/6’s and the ever annoying Illusory Gains (which he drew in all three games). I won a very tight first game through Salt Road Quartermasters moving both his counters onto Stampeding Elk Herd and Hardened Berserker and hitting him for exactly lethal through his blockers thanks to Formiddable, while he had me on lethal with fliers. Phew. I scooped a rather close but clearly in his favour board state in the second game to make time for the third.

I drew a great opener in the third game, but time was running low and time was called after just a couple of turns. We had had a lunch break of an hour before the third round, meaning the time was now like 5:30, and I was already late for dinner with my better half. As such, I scooped to my opponent even though there was no way he could get the win.

He eventually went on to win the entire tournament, going 5-0-1, which was all well and fair since he probably had one of the best decks in the room. 2-1 for myself isn’t stellar, and I wish I had had the time to play the deck for a few more games, but I got jealous seeing everyone else opening their shiny Dragonlords. The guy opposite me during deckbuilding was Kolaghan and opened Atarka in one of his boosters and elected to not even splash her. How rude!

The Prince and the Pauper

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In informal terms, different limited environments are sometimes described as being either “prince” or “pauper”, or rather – there’s a scale with one end labeled prince and the other end pauper, and all limited environments can be placed in between. A format leaning towards pauper (through coincidence, this is only tangentially related to the constructed format of the same name) is defined by its commons – there are good threats and good removal at the common level, there might be synergies to be drafted and so on. A format leaning towards “prince” is defined by bomby rares and mythic rares – where these cards that outshine the uncommon and common cards in the format by a large margin, so large that it puts the emphasis on drafting around these powerful rares.

wingmateroc.full3x Khans of Tarkir was, according to some, a pauper format. There’s no denying that there are plenty of powerful rares; High Sentinels of Arashin, Sagu Mauler, and Wingmate Roc are all game-breaking cards that will dominate most any limited board states, but the format also contains a bunch of binder fodder as well as some great commons.

Fate Reforged, on the other hand, was according to many a prince format with very powerful rares and the Fate-Khans-Khans drafts were usually focused on opening something sweet in Fate Reforged and then making sure to draft something that could play your bomb rare. Since this is the opinion of Luis Scott-Vargas and other pros, I’m left with no credentials nor confidence to stand against these titans. I agree.

However, part of the problem of Fate Reforged being full of bomby rares is that it is the first pack to be drafted. If you open a Dromoka, the Eternal in your first pack, there would have to be a right long string of good UR Tempo cards coming for you not to at least splash the Dromoka. The rare dictates the draft too much in this case. But, when Fate Reforged is opened in Dragons-Dragons-Fate drafts, people are already probably locked into a couple of colours. As such, I expect us to see people second- or third-picking Dromoka and friends, unless someone is hate-drafting them.

The problem with the Fate Reforged rares being too powerful might still be there – there’s lots more of Dragons of Tarkir to be seen, specifically commons and uncommons, but they won’t quite dictate our drafts in the future in the same way as they have in Fate-Khans-Khans. Personally, I think some decent unconditional removal in the common or uncommon slots would solve the problem outright.

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